You’ve probably heard of—and maybe used—learning stations in your classroom. With stations, teachers set up activities around their rooms, then have students rotate from station to station, performing each task. They are a wonderful way to provide variety and engagement in your classroom.
There’s only one real downside to stations—they take a LOT of time to set up. And because we’re all short on time, we may not use stations as often as we could.
So today I’m proposing a watered-down version of stations that keeps the movement, interactivity and variety while minimizing the prep work. I’m calling these “Chat Stations,” discussion prompts that students visit just like stations, but instead of performing a complex task, they just have a quick discussion. Chat Stations are incredibly flexible: They can be used for test reviews, ethical debates, exploring new material, even analyzing literature.
On top of their flexibility as a cooperative learning tool, Chat Stations can also dramatically improve whole-class discussions. Because students have fully explored each issue in the less-threatening Chat Station setting, they will be better prepared to participate in a larger class discussion next. And as we explored in a previous post, we need to do more to engage our less talkative students. Chat Stations offer another way to get them more involved.
Here’s a video demonstrating how Chat Stations work:
The more traditional kinds of stations—where students perform more complex or hands-on work—are still the gold standard for student engagement, but Chat Stations can be a great strategy for those times when you haven’t been able to prepare a “real” station. They still get students up and moving and breathe new life into your content. And there’s really no limit to how challenging your questions can be.
I’m pretty sure I haven’t invented anything new here, so if you’re doing something like this and have a tip or suggestion to add, please comment below. If you try this for the first time, please share your experiences with us. ♦
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Awesome…again!!! This is a twist on BS carousel and I am going to use it to go over section review questions before our chapter form. assessment! Please always send me your posts…I am sharing them at our next TSG…I will see about skyping too…our meeting was moved because this morning is our GREAT WALK OUT!!! Our amazing Science teacher(mrs. kinkle) is making us walk to school…it should be great! I am meeting groups all along the way! LOVE your posts…keep ’em coming! THANK YOU!!!
Thanks so much for commenting, Maura. I’m trying to get more interaction going on the site but it has been slooooowwwwww. The feedback is so important to me because I have no idea whether these ideas are useful or not. My fear is that people are reading and going, DUH! I already do that!
I have no idea what a BS carousel is but the name cracks me up…Like something a bitter man might say to his wife when she starts complaining…”Time for a ride on the BS carousel!”
So what is it, actually? 🙂
BS Carousel is Brain Storm carousel….Each group has one color every time a comment is in that color it is their contribution, it is great because they are accountable and they can add, change, correct, and even compliment on others’ contribution but NEVER REPEAT….they rotate every 5 mins…it is great for review or accessing prior knowledge or just getting kids to comment,,,At closure you review all the comments have kids rank them for the best. = best comments get points …or a HWK pass or points on the test…YOUR reply to me MADE me laugh out loud!!!
This Friday coming( November 15th) is our TSG (teacher study group LOL), our focus is developing better communications with parents and the community? Any ideas would be great and if possible we can Skype and share your site… the Cult of Pedagogy!!! Think about it!!! Let me know ….it IS AT 7:30 AM!!!!
I will send you a message via FB. I would love to. And BS carousels sound awesome — would like to do a write-up on that!
I’d love more info. about BS Carousels!!! Chat stations sound fun, too! Love love love your blog, Jennifer!
We used carousel brainstorming a lot during staff meetings. It was a great way to get all voices heard, reach concensus, and clear up any misconceptions. It’s obviously a great strategy in the classroom too. I’ve even used it with 1st Graders. Here are a couple articles that describe carousel brainstorming: What is Carousel Brainstorming Technique? and Carousel Brainstorm. Have fun!
Can’t wait to give this a try!
I recently began following you…. Your ideas resonate with me as a high school English teacher who is constantly looking for a fresh delivery method. Keep on! I’m incorporating Chat Stations with my freshmen this week as we read our next essay. Love this.
Thanks for letting us know, Sherri! And so glad you found us. If you haven’t already, you may want to also consider joining our weekly mailing list.
I’ve heard and used BS stations as a different name. Graffiti wall, I believe?
Jennifer, what complexity level would you use for a novel introduction or review?
Hi Stacey! I don’t quite understand the question, and I’m not sure what you mean by complexity level. Can you elaborate?
I love the idea of Chat Stations! With Common Core, we need to find a way to work more on speaking and listening skills. Chat Stations are a great way to engage students in focused small group discussions. I definitely plan on incorporating this strategy next school year!
I love thinking about new strategies or even being reminded of strategies I have used in the past! It keeps teaching from getting stale. Sometimes I get in a routine and I need a shake up!
As a new teacher, all of these ideas are so helpful! Thank you!
I love this! I recently moved positions from Instructional Coach to 6th grade ELA, ELD and foundations of writing. Your site and entire unit on Narrative writing has been an amazing find. Thank you for all you do for teachers!
Hey Jules, this is so nice to hear! I’ll make sure Jenn sees this.
Here’s some feedback😉I love Cult of Pedagogy, listen to podcasts, follow on Pinterest and send links to my school email to use later!! I’m excited to use Chat Stations almost immediately, so I can explicitly teach this type of fabulous collaboration to my new 4th graders in the fall. I’ve been teaching for a loonngg time and love to be challenged with your new ideas. Thanks so much!!
Thanks for the feedback, Stacy!
Thank you for sharing. I over heard a student say they wished we did this everyday. I love listening to them reason through the questions. Another great part is the when they help one another understand concepts!
I am so glad I found this site. In site based Adult Ed programs we lack quality professional development and tools that might be present in Day School (Elem, Middle, H.S) this site is SO helpful- infusing life and new strategies into my daily teaching. I learn so much here…thank you!
Lemya, I appreciate you taking the time to write this, and I’m so glad you’re finding helpful stuff here!
Love this. A great way to take a simple, boring (but necessary) worksheet and make it more interesting, and the kids will never be the wiser that they’re just doing review questions.
I do stations all the time (usually with manipulatives), and I have one more bit of advice to add: I agree that you should have more stations than you need (and the duplicates are a great idea), but it’s important to have the kids go IN ORDER numerically. I have HS juniors and even they get confused matching station number to paper number… Also, one time I let them go willy-nilly to stations they hadn’t visited, and in the last 5 minutes of class I had four groups lined up to complete one station. Ugh. If they stay in order, this doesn’t happen.
I’ve also used the computer as a station, where the kids have to look something up. Adds more novelty.
That’s good advice, Abby. Maybe the recording sheet doesn’t have to have numbers on it at all; just a place for students to actually write the station number once they get there?
Using the computer as a station is fantastic. I’ve done that too and my students have always seemed more excited when they got to that station. Now that iPads and other smaller devices are becoming more a part of classrooms, it should just get easier to build in more work like that. Thanks so much for contributing.
I teach 7th grade ELA and set up stations near the end of the year. One of them was doing Vocabulary.com on laptops.
As I write this, I am doing stations!! I took a 25-question review sheet, printed it out in a big font, cut the questions up and taped them face-down around the room. I gave the kids their answer sheets on clipboards. I have a very small class right now so it’s manageable (they’re mostly special ed). One girl keeps saying, “This is so cool! This is so fun!” and doesn’t even realize that she’s just doing a worksheet. “We get to like, walk around!”
That is fantastic. I’m so glad it’s working! You never know if your ideas are going to go over as well for other people, so this is really good to hear. Thanks for letting me know!
I love this idea! I’m literally doing stations right now! My problem with stations is that some stations end up taking longer than others. I still haven’t found a good way to “time” them so they all take about the same amount of time. Any ideas?
Yes! The best way to prevent this from happening is to create more stations than groups. So if you have 7 groups, set up 9-10 stations; that way, groups that finish faster can move to an empty station. If you don’t have enough content to create that many stations, duplicate a few of the more “slow” ones. Hope that helps!
When I create stations, I, too, have 3-4 extra so students aren’t waiting for a station to open up. My stations are also differentiated. For example, I might have a station on the Louisiana Purchase that will challenge the gifted kids, and have a 2nd station on the same topic that my gen ed and spec ed kids can access. Kids can try any level they wish, but I always have some stations on the same topic that are differentiated. All other stations are so all kids can access them.
This is a great tool – I will be using it to help my students work through our current novel. 🙂
I came across your “Chat Stations” via World Language Classroom Resources. What a WONDERFUL tool. I have recently been thinking about adding stations in to my (someday) classroom, and this is a wonderful way to incorporate that, minus the prep work. Thank you so much for the idea, and the video was great! Often times I skip videos because it just takes too long to listen to someone tell me what I could read so much faster. But your visuals perfectly and succinctly showed how the stations should work. The management ideas you gave at the end of the video are much appreciated as well. Thanks so much! I look forward to exploring more on your site.
Hi! Thanks so much for commenting. I’m really glad you found the video to be helpful. When you try it with your own students, come back and tell me how it went. I love to refine these strategies with more tips from people who are trying them in their classrooms. I also hope you enjoy the rest of the site, too!
i personally think that this is a really stupid idea you never know who the students will meet its just a matter of who those students talk to and if they try it at home without a grown-up knowing it wont help at all because they are talking to strangers that you dont even know so that doesnt help either sorry for the negative comment but…………!!!!
Hi Lovepeace. Just to clarify, this happens in school, within a classroom, with other students — the students interact with their classmates, not strangers.
Ms.Gonzalez they are chats online wouldn’t that be dangerous for them to be doing that!!???!!??
MS.GONZALEZ PLEASE REPLY TO ALL OF MY OTHER COMMENTS PLEASE :/
Hello again! These are not online chats; they are face-to-face conversations that happen in class. If you watch the video above, it should be pretty clear. It’s a very simple, very low-tech strategy. Please let me know if you have other questions!
ok,ummmm sorry for misunderstanding you!!!!:/
The chat stations sound interesting. Can’t wait to try it.
My team use a version of chat stations, but instead of the students moving around as a group, each student gets a slip of paper with their own personal station schedule (eg. Kid 1 has 1/2/3/4, Kid 2 2/3/4/1, etc) this means that they work with a different group at each station and helps to give everyone a chance to work with everyone else. We find it works really well and fosters a lot of respect amongst the kids. It’s also useful for making sure everyone gets to work with everyone else – we’re open plan with 75 kids and 3 teachers so if you don’t plan for it, its easy for some kids need to hear each other’s ideas!
kim i would rather use your strategy rather than the chatting that idea is safe and secure so i like it it is also very important for kids to interact with each other otherwise they will never be able to talk to people in school without being nervous and/or scared!!!!!!
Sorry, Ms.Gonzalez but if you look up on Google ONLINE CHATS no additional stuff or anything you will not get anything good Sorry,Ms.Gonzalez if i misunderstand you!!!
i love this idea of personalized schedule for each student, so they are discussing with different people. That’s GENIUS and would even work with my college freshmen.
KIM PLEASE READ ↓↓ I LOVED YOURE STRATEGY my kids loved it to so know the kids are asking constently can we do this whenever 4-5 kids are finished with whatever they are doing i’ll let them IT IS AMAZING the kids actually wanna interact know i love this strategy if anymore AMAZING ideas please comment more down below ↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓
hello, i was just wondering when the next post is going to be on because im getting bored and i have nothing to do!!!!!!!
I just put up a new post this morning. Click “Home” and you’ll see them all!
I love this idea. I will be switching to 5th & 6th grade reading and was flabbergasted as to how to set up stations with those grades. Awesome and sounds really easier to do. Do you do these everyday with different content? I am attempting to do novel studies. As a first timer at this I really want my scholars to be engaged and keep it fun. Here’s to a new year and I shall be checking out other content on your page.
This was not a strategy I did every day, but I think that is certainly possible. I could see you setting up permanent stations and just switching out the task or questions — that would allow you to make adjustments until you got the placement of the stations just right in terms of crowd flow and space for talking or doing. Come back and tell me how you ended up using this and how it went!
I love this idea, great way to make simple activity more engaging. I can’t wait to try it with my kids! Thanks for sharing.
No problem! Come back and tell me how it went!
Love this idea! I am a 5th grade ELA teacher and am always looking for fun ways to have my students learn. You are absolutely right about how students will learn by changing the format of their everyday lessons.I like the way that the students can discuss or “chat” about the different topics and use higher order thinking skills to be able to answer the questions posed.
Thank you for sharing!
We use these but call them Gallery Walks. Can be used for questions, to look at images/illustrations, projects, anything you want all the kids to see but want to get them off their rear ends and moving! Great concept!
Yes, Tazmin! I didn’t realize that at the time I wrote this post, but when I was doing research for my extra-large post on discussion strategies, I came across Gallery Walks and realized I had made up a name for something that already existed!
I can’t wait to try this with my high school French students! I was thinking you could split the class in half and have one half be stationed in various places in the room. The other half would travel from one stationary person to the next. They could each have a paper with short discussion prompts on it that they had to check off once completed. Lots of mini-conversations with half as much movement! Thanks for a great idea!
That sounds great–come back and tell us how it went!
I love this idea. I will definitely give it a try.
Thanks so much for the idea! I am a pre-k teacher who believes that literacy workstations are a very important part of the day… and YES they take a while to set up. I am going to try this in my listening station this week. We will read Lyle the Crocodile as a class in shared reading, then it will go into workstations. I will not make a recording of myself reading it this week! Yeah! I will tell them that they need to take a picture walk through the book and have a chat and listen time in that station. They are a great bunch of kiddos, so I am pretty sure that it will work! Thanks Melissa
Hi! Love this idea. I teach nursing and we use “stations” for nursing skills. You are right–they take ages to set up. I like your idea of having students “discuss” a concept or solve a problem at each station. It creates a nice alternative that allows students to learn from each other and work on their critical thinking skills. I am going to suggest adding chat stations to our lesson plans…thank you!!
I love this idea and will be trying it out with my 7th graders! Is there accountability like a way to record their work or discussion points as they go from station to station? Thanks!
This sounds like a great idea! I teach 2nd grade and would like to know if anyone has tried it with younger students.
I use stations, as my district calls gallery walks, at least several times a week. I teach high school students with mild disabilities and I photocopy questions/prompts on different colors (3), which range in difficulty level and then I assign groups by color, group one has to do 3 blue, 2 purple, and 1 red. Students have no idea that the questions are differentiated!
Another easy tip is that I put the questions in clear picture frames… The ones you slide in and are do,d at the dollar store and I arrange these around the room. Students love to see them set up when they come in!
This is great! Can you tell me what program you used to make the video you posted? I’d like to create videos like this for my classroom. Thank you!
Hey Shatha! I created slides (using a lot of the animations feature) in PowerPoint, then filmed them in slideshow mode with Camtasia Studio.
Love this idea. I definitely want to try this with my eighth grade science and language arts classes. One idea would be to have tokens for each student that they lay down to talk. They have to use all of their tokens during discussion. This would keep one student from dominating the discussion and ensure even the quietest student participates.
Thank you! This is actually a workable thing for my large college classes! I’m gonna give it a try after the Christmas break.
I’m also going to give this a try with my college classes in Spring 2020. Anything you can share about how this worked in your setting?
Love this idea as a formative assessment tool! I co-teach a Global Studies course, and I can see this as a great way to initiate a variety of conversations in my three-week session for the course.
I like this idea. I have been trying to get our teachers to try stations, but they are very intimidated by both the work involved in planning it and how to manage it. (It is tough giving up control) This can be a nice way to test the water.
This is great – always delighted to find FL practices. I’m new to secondary ed. having spent 10 years teaching college. Most of my classes will do fine with this, but there are some (who would benefit greatly from this type of activity) who will be near impossible to keep on class in and in target language. I suspect this is a classroom management issue. With certain groups, it feels nigh impossible. Partly, my room is very small — which means creating distance between the socially exuberant is a challenge. Any advice would be appreciated.
Hi Chris B,
I teach Spanish in grades 7-8 and I find that keeping students talking in the target language is part classroom management and part student motivation. Many students want to know whether what they’re doing will count for or against them. I set up procedures early on in the year so that students know what’s expected when we do activities that involve moving around the room. I also let students know that activities like “Chat Stations” will be calculated as part of their “Interpersonal Communications Skills” grades or a “Participation” grade. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume that all of my students are trying to speak the target language. As Jennifer mentions in the video, you also have the oppportunity to spend some time talking with individual groups and students. Even if they’re only using the target language while you’re right there with them, they’re still using the target language. I hope that I’ve made some sense. Have a great day!
Hi, I am a former 1st and KG teacher but am in need of a demo lesson for a social studies /science split for 6th grade. I love the idea of chat stations, based on current events for a 20 minute demo but am concerned about the management piece since this will be a new set up for all of us. However, I do think the peer to peer discussions would be great! thoughts?
I did something really simple to keep life in the TL. I posted a timer on the board and cybernetic my students to stay in French for ad long as they can. I started the timer and them moved around worth a wireless mouse. As soon ad i hard English, i stopped the clock and recorded the time. I had them compete with my other 2 classes or try to add up to a full hour, each day adding on. It worked so well that my level 2 students would leave class conversing in French. This could easily be incorporated.
Awesome idea! We are going to have Chromebooks in my classroom this year, and I may just have numbers (no questions/prompts) around my room. When students get to that number, they can find the corresponding question/prompt on a Google Doc or Form. This will be a good way to get students talking with each other instead of individually sucked into their screens. Thank you!
I tried this today. It was awesome! Love your website 🙂
I love this idea! I’m an English teacher at a small private school with 12 students per class. I’m going to implement it this week. I’m going to have six stations and let them choose three to move through throughout the period. The first will be a self-directed learning station on sentences and fragments. The second one will be a writing prompt. The third will be riddles. The fourth station will be read and respond. In the fifth station, students will watch a short video and write a response. They will also have the choice of a sixth station which will be to read silently for the class period and then write a reader response. Thank you so much for this wonderful idea!
This is such a great idea! I am focusing my “Conversation Stations” around free response questions in my AP Chemistry class to help my little math nerds work on crafting words and honing in their ability to describe scientific phenomena. Thanks for this!
Nice! I am wanting to try this too. I think it will help my students to work in the time parameters that they need to be striving to meet for each question in the free response section.
Love this! I often use what I call Partner Chats where students find a different partner to talk through each question. Similar to this, it gets them moving around, engaging with different people and talking and listening in pairs or small groups. Thanks for the refresher!
Great idea! Thanks for sharing, but I need to think more about it when there are around 60 students in the classroom. Wake up too early today. I’ll try to sleep for one more hour.
Really like this! I would use chat stations to get my students away from traditional worksheets or from always working at their desk with their partner.
I’m envisioning having pre-assigned groups that change little throughout the year: I tell them to go to their, for example, blue group and gather around a lab table/white board and work with this group for x minutes. When time is up they work with their green group on a different set of problems. Repeat. This way they’re constantly moving around and don’t get trapped talking to just their friends or to the same people over and over again.
Love your website!
I use the with my HS EAL students ahead of semester exams; teacher-made study guides for each core subject make a station. Students rotate through math/sci//ss/Eng to discuss material with each other. Sometimes I’ll choose a particular objective to focus on, but usually let students choose. It’s not as intimidating to study for a cumulative exam when review is in short chunks & you can talk it through with classmates. I roam through stations, mainly to offer encouragement & only intervene to clarify misunderstandings/guide if needed.
I love this idea!!! I could definitely see it being used with Image Floods to help students build background by noticing and wondering about the images associated with the content they’re going to learn about.
Jennifer – I LOVE your thoughtful posts. I always make time for them and often try something you’ve blogged about. People are paying attention, even if it feels like no one is sometimes!
This is great to hear, Amanda — thanks for letting us know! I’ll be sure Jenn sees your comment.
I love this idea and the flexibility it offers; I’ve gained SO MUCH by listening to the podcasts and now reading through the posts … it’s kind of amazing. 🙂 I benefit greatly from the discussions that pop up in them comments … thanks CoP and all on here.
Can you share an example expectations checklist? I know certain expectations I want my students to follow, but I am curious what your expectations are for this specific activity. Thank you!
In the video, Jenn shows an example of a very simple 3 column expectations checklist which includes: Actively Participates, Stays on Task, and Seeks Solutions. I think it would be important to go over what each of these looks and sounds like ahead of time. You could even create a single-point rubric or some other kind of guide to display as a reference — then just use something like Jenn’s checklist to quickly record observations during the activity. Hope this helps!
This is the first time that I’m on your site and I love how clearly you explain everything. I’m a high school Spanish teacher and am looking for activities that I can use to keep my students speaking in the target language. I can easily use this when they can speak English, but I’m also trying to figure out what a correct modeled response would be when I want them to speak only in Spanish and I have so many students ranging in ability. I’m thinking I could post a question (in Spanish) such as, “What do you like to eat for breakfast?” Students could then respond in short sentences or list the items. As someone stated in a previous comment, either way, they’re attempting to use the target language! Just wondering if anyone else has some tips for doing this in a foreign language. Thanks again!
Hey Ingrid, the first thing I’d recommend doing is to set clear expectations for speaking in the target language of Spanish. There may be times where it’s okay for students to use English (or another language), but if you want them to stay in Spanish for an activity, you need to set up those parameters ahead of time. Jenn also talks about using a group as a model before doing chat stations with the entire class. This would be a good opportunity to maybe highlight some language structures and vocabulary that would help students use Spanish during the activity. As for the different language abilities of students in your class, it’s always a good idea to have some scaffolds in place. Providing students with a handout that includes sentence frames or visuals can help support their use of the target language. I hope these ideas help!
I do carnaval review for exams.
Stations with Bullseye 🎯, basketball hoop type device, vocab JengaBoom💥 , baby Jenga, large magnetic flash cards, fast brain buzzer, spin wheel, 💻 laptop,… students rotate in groups of 4 (mixed level learners), tally kept per group for each station (except for the magnetic flash card one). Some stations are performed standing, others on the floor, others in chairs at desks, others at magnetic white board. I have large classes but it all works out well. Those who need some 1:1 can take time to review with me, while others are busy at stations. Carnival 🎡 Review.
Love the carnival idea. Very creative and for sure would keep each student engaged.
Great idea, varies the learning method and helps students work at their pace
I love the chat stations and jigsaw. I will be utilizing both and found this class to be very effective to keep my students actively engaged to promote more learning and retention.
I read your post last night and put it into action with my 9th grade “English as a Second Language” class (I live in France) and it was a hit! I got to actually hear from so many more students than usual as I walked around listening to groups and at the end of class, 2 students even came up and said it was a great class and can we do this type of activity again. The video really helped me understand how to put it into place “right the first time.” So really, thanks!
Thanks for sharing your experience, Emily! It is wonderful to hear that you had success with this strategy. I’ll be sure to share this with Jenn!
Yay!! So happy to hear this!!
Hello! All of your posts are great resources! I was wondering if there are any ideas about virtual Chat Stations? Some how implementing this through Google Classroom?
Great question, Maria! I can see this strategy working particularly well in a tool like Google Slides or Google Jamboard. Rather than posting each question in a different location around the classroom, you could post one question per slide. After grouping students, assign a copy of the slide deck to each group. This copy could serve as the space where they record their answers. To facilitate the whole group discussion, you could lead a synchronous conversation using a master copy of the slide deck or have a more asynchronous dialogue using a whole class discussion board. I hope this helps! There is also a distance learning section of the CoP blog that you might helpful!